Download Syllabus: Here


ENGL 25954
T/Th 10:30-11:50 Harper 145

Instructor: Patrick Jagoda, Office Hours: Thursday 1:30-3:30pm or by appointment (Walker 504)

TA: Peter McDonald, Office Hours Tuesday 12:30-1:30 and by appointment (Grounds of Being).

This course explores genres, across literature and new media, which emerged in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Throughout the quarter, we will turn to genres that follow “postmodernism” — a now-standard category that describes literary experiments that unfolded in the years following World War II. The new genres that will concern us include cyberpunk fiction, steampunk, the New Weird, the post-ironic novel, long arc serial television, art games, electronic literature, interactive fiction, and autobiographical comics. Through a survey of the literature of our historical present, we will examine movements that complicate and depart from the earlier literary category of the “postmodern.” We will also interrogate the very category of the “new.” Novelty, in our historical moment, is so often celebrated. Still, it remains an open question of contemporary literature and politics alike whether we, like the modernists of the early twentieth century, can or should “make it new.”

Course requirements include engaged participation in class discussion, a special topic presentation (in pairs), several blog entries, a midterm paper, and a final research paper (along with an abstract and presentation). There will be no additional exams.


  • Neuromancer (William Gibson)
  • The Difference Engine (William Gibson and Bruce Sterling)
  • The Pale King (David Foster Wallace)
  • The Known World (Edward P. Jones)
  • Braid (available for Windows, Mac OS X, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3)
  • Gone Home (available for Windows/Mac OS X/Linux)
  • In the Shadow of No Towers (Art Spiegelman)

Books are available at the Seminary Co-op. All other readings are available online or on Chalk.

COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)

Prior to the course, Read: “Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (Fredric Jameson) and Begin Neuromancer (William Gibson p. 1-95)

Week 1: Postmodernism and Cyberpunk

1 OctoberCourse Intro, “Postmodernism” (Fredric Jameson), & Neuromancer (Gibson, p. 1-95)

3 October: Neuromancer (William Gibson, p. 96-261)

Week 2: Steampunk

8 October: The Difference Engine (William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, p. 1-216)

10 October: The Difference Engine (William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, p. 217-429)

Presentation Topic: Cozy Mysteries (e.g., The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency)

Week 3: Ironic Fiction and the New Weird

15 October: “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” (David Foster Wallace, p. 151-194) and “Entropy” (Thomas Pynchon)

Presentation Topic: Post-apocalyptic Literature                   (e.g., Oryx and Crake, The Road, The Windup Girl)

17 October: “The Call of Cthulhu” (H.P. Lovecraft), “The New Weird: ‘It’s Alive?'” (Jeff Vandermeer, p. ix-xviii) and “The Lizard of Ooze” (Jay Lake, p. 159-173) from The New Weird

Presentation Topic: Slipstream Fiction (e.g., Empire of the Senseless, The Calcutta Chromosome, King Rat)

Week 4: The Post-Ironic Novel

22 October: The Pale King (David Foster Wallace, p. 68-87 and 156-254, Chapters 9 and 22)

Presentation Topic: Boring Fiction (e.g., the work of Kenneth Goldsmith)

24 October: The Pale King (David Foster Wallace, p. 258-311)

Presentation Topic: Multi-Narrative or Network Fiction (e.g., Cloud Atlas, Underworld, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Syriana, Babel, Crash, The Wire)

Week 5: Long Arc Serial Television

28 October: In Treatment Week 1 Screening (Logan 802 at 7pm)

29 October: “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television” (Jason Mittell, p. 29-40) and In Treatment Week 1

Presentation Topic: Web Series (e.g., The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Red vs. Blue)

30 October: In Treatment Week 2 Screening (Cobb 425 at 7pm)

31 October: In Treatment Week 2

Presentation Topic: The Netflix television series and distribution model (e.g., House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Arrested Development)

1 November: ***5+ Page Midterm Paper due***

Week 6: The Neo-Slave Narrative

5 November: The Known World (Edward P. Jones, p. 1-243)

Presentation Topic: Virtual Worlds and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) (e.g., World of Warcraft, Second Life, Minecraft, Guild Wars 2)

7 November: The Known World (Edward P. Jones, p. 244-388)

8 November: *** Final Research Paper Abstract due***

Week 7: Indie, Art, and DIY Games

12 November: Braid (Jonathan Blow, computer and video game): Play World 2 and World 3 and watch ending

Presentation Topic: Real-Time Strategy Games (e.g., Command and ConquerStarcraft)

14 NovemberPassageDys4iaBetween (with a partner), and Jason Rohrer Critical Inquiry interview

Presentation Topic: Alternate Reality Games (e.g., The BeastI Love BeesThe Project)

Week 8: Electronic Literature and Interactive Fiction

19 November (Special Guest Instructor: Peter McDonald): Galatea (Emily Short, interactive fiction) and “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” (N. KatherineHayles)

Presentation Topic: The survival horror videogame (e.g., Resident EvilSilent Hill)

21 November: Gone Home (The Fulbright Company, first person narrative game)

Presentation Topic: Locative literature (e.g., The Silent HistoryMyStory)

Week 9: Autobiographical Comics

26 November: In the Shadow of No Towers (Art Spiegelman, comics)

Presentation Topic: Iyashikei Manga (e.g., ARIAYokohama Kaidashi Kikou)


Week 10: Final Paper Presentations

3 December: Final Research Paper In-class Presentation and Critique

5 December: Final Research Paper In-class Presentation and Critique

Week 11: Research Paper Completion

12 December: *** Final Research Paper due***


  • Timely Arrival: We only meet a handful of times so make the most of each seminar/workshop session. Arrive on time!
  • Preparation: Do the reading and take the activities seriously. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with our core texts and artworks. All readings and viewings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.
  • Annotations and Notes: Bring your notes and annotated readings to class. Just because we’re discussing television shows and videogames, in some cases, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jot down ideas that will strengthen your participation in our group exchange. These notes may also serve as the starting point for your blog posts, midterm essay, and the final research paper.
  • Screenings: Screenings and participation are mandatory. If you absolutely can’t attend one of the events, you must pre-approve this absence and play the game prior to our class discussion.
  • Questions and Office Hours: Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours. A seminar can’t succeed without open discussion and curiosity!
  • Plagiarism: As the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students notes, “It is contrary to ethics, to academic integrity, and to the spirit of intellectual inquiry to submit the statements, ideas, or work of others as one’s own. Such conduct is punishable under the University’s disciplinary system.” If you have any doubts about whether something constitutes plagiarism, you should contact me in advance of turning in work with plagiarized content. The penalty for plagiarism might include failure of this course. Please review the University of Chicago’s official policy online. One practice this university considers plagiarism is turning in one assignment to two courses without previously receiving instructors’ permission.


  • All writing should be typed in 12-point font, double-spaced, and include page numbers.
  • For all writing, include a heading on the first page with your name, course title, and due date.
  • All writing should have an original title that entices the reader.
  • All assignments that you expect me to read should be edited and proofread for spelling and sentence-level errors. Start your writing process early enough to allow revision.
  • Sources should be cited using a consistent citation method. Look online for basic guidelines for accepted formats (MLA, Chicago, etc.). You can also turn to the University of Chicago library citation guide or citation managers such as WorldCat.
  • All papers that cite articles, books, or other texts (even if they are covered in class) should include a Works Cited or Bibliography page (that does not count toward the page total).


  • Preparation, Discussion, and Screenings: 15%
  • Short Presentations on Emerging Genre Topic (In pairs): 10%
  • Blog Posts (Entries and Responses): 15%
  • Midterm Paper (5 pages): 20%
  • Final Research Paper: Including Abstract (300-400 words), Presentation (5 minutes), and Essay (10-15 pages): 40%


Short Presentations on Emerging Genre Topic (In Pairs)

Given the short duration of the quarter, we will not have time to consider a number of major new and emerging genres that complicate the way we might think about postmodern fiction. In order to incorporate some overviews of these topics, you will give short presentations, in pairs, about a number of predetermined topic areas, such as the Alternate Reality Game, Iyashikei Manga, slipstream fiction, and the survivor horror videogame (see course schedule for more). You may take any path through these broad topic areas. But you have only 5 minutes, so you’ll have to be organized and disciplined about your presentation. These presentations will generally take place at the very start of class. Given the short duration, this overview should orient the class to your area with a handful of appropriate examples, dates, and concepts. Even as the presentation is short, you will be expected to do some minimal research that exceeds what one might find in the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

Blog Posts (Entries and Responses)

Over the course of the quarter, you will contribute to a class blog through original posts and responses to your peers. These posts are intended to influence and extend the conversations we have during our shared meetings. You are required to post at least 5 entries over the course of the quarter. Each entry should respond to that week’s readings or viewings, expand substantively on an ongoing topic of class discussion (without simply reproducing or documenting an exchange), or call our attention to articles or media about related phenomena. The 5 minimum entries can be posted anytime over the course of the quarter but you may post no more than one post a week for credit (so plan ahead!). Each post must also comment on a topic from the week in which it is posted (so you can’t, for instance, return to a topic from Week 2 on Week 9 unless it is in some way related to a current discussion). While the content of these entries can be wide-ranging and less formal than your essays, you should observe formal citation standards and be mindful of your prose. You are also required to read posts by your classmates and respond briefly to at least one entry per week.

Midterm Paper (5 pages)

For your midterm paper, you’ll perform an extended 5-page close reading of one of the texts we explore in class. Given the timing of the midterm, your options, at that point, include NeuromancerThe Difference Engine, “Entropy,” the New Weird stories, The Pale King, or In Treatment (though for the last one you’ll have to plan ahead). I will not provide you with essay prompts, so part of the challenge will be finding a compelling topic that yields interesting implications — the question “So what?” should be perpetually in your thoughts when you engage in a close reading. While no external research is required for this paper, some of you might find it useful to engage with a range of critical theories and methods such as historicism, feminism, critical race theory, Marxist literary criticism, new media theory, etc. in developing your implications. You may also bring in secondary texts that we read together or discuss in class.

Final Research Paper, Abstract, and Presentation

 Final Paper (10-15 pages)

Your 10-15 page final paper can be related to any new and emerging genre or aspect of contemporary genre theory that has some connection to the material covered in the course. To clarify, you need not necessarily write about one of the primary texts we cover in class. For this assignment, you will work up to your final essay through an abstract (due November 8) and a presentation (on December 3 or 5). The paper itself should make an argument, support it through analysis, and elaborate on the implications (your “So what?”). Additionally, as this is a research paper, I will expect you tocite at least five external sources (you may of course include additional sources and/or sources covered in our shared discussions but there must be at least five external texts in the mix).

Final Paper Abstract (300-400 words)

About a month before the final essay is due, you will turn in a brief abstract. You can adjust your topic during the research process, but it’s useful to have a starting point — a working fiction, if you will — well in advance of the deadline. The abstract should succinctly state your argument, name your key work or object of analysis, explain the way you’re positioning your intervention in the broader scholarly field, and demonstrate why a reader would care about the argument that you’re making. The abstract should also comment upon the type of research that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. If you wish to include a bibliography (which is recommended but not required), it will not be included in the word count. Your abstracts will be posted on the course site, so you should take this assignment seriously.

Final Paper Presentation (5 minutes)

About a week before the final research paper is due, you’ll have a chance to present your topic in class. You should present your argument and its implications in a clear and persuasive manner. You should also prepare the presentation, in advance, so that it fits within the allotted 5-minute slot while covering your key points. Visual aids (from powerpoints to images to videos) will certainly strengthen your presentation. The primary purpose of the assignment is to share your work with your peers and to receive feedback that will help you with your revisions.

1 thought on “Syllabus

  1. Pingback: 5 Questions: Dr. Patrick Jagoda (UChicago), Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellow in American Studies « AMS :: ATX

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